Residue management was a hot topic during the 25th annual National No-Tillage Conference last week in St. Louis, with several attendees sharing their experiences and tips for residue breakdown and nutrient retention.
During the conference I had the opportunity to attend a dinner meeting coordinated by the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) where a handful of strip-tillers and no-tillers primarily discussed their participation in the agency’s recent study on cover cropping practices.
But one of the interesting conversations that developed during the meeting was on the misrepresentation of crop residue by some in the ag industry as “trash.” This was a point brought up by Mazeppa, Minn., strip-tiller Rod Sommerfield, who suggested this word choice, when referring to residue, can have a negative connotation.
“There is this perception a lot of farmers have that their cash crop’s residue is trash,” he says. “That’s a big problem because you are giving up a lot of sustainability if you’re not treating residue as a tremendous management asset. Our goal is to create humus, and when you bury that residue it becomes anerobic.”
Sommerfield has utilized cover crops for the better part of a decade and says the long-term objective on their 500-acre operation is to return his farm’s soils to the nutrient level and biological health they were at 150 years ago.
This won’t happen if he doesn’t value and capture the benefits residue can provide, rather than bury or discard it. This starts experimenting with methods and tools to help recycle nutrients back into the soil, including tracking residue buildup in the strip and choosing the right equipment attachments (if needed). Sommerfield’s practices are paying off, as the self-described “regenerative agriculturalist” has dramatically lowered his nitrogen (N)-per-bushel ratio while maintaining consistent strip-tilled corn yields.
“Our primary goal is to grow soil and it’s taken us 20 years, but we’ve gotten to the point where we can consistently grow corn in the 200-bushel-per-acre range, on no more than 150, or in some cases 120 units of N per acre,” Sommerfield says. “That’s the message we’re trying to share when we hear people refer to residue as trash.”
What are the key benefits your seeing from your residue management strategy in strip-till? Share your story with me at (262) 777-2441, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.